Dan Sandman

43: The Paper Men by William Golding

In Books, Comedy, Fiction on 21/10/2016 at 12:00 pm

the-paper-men-by-william-goldingWilfred Barclay is an alcoholic writer whose first novel Coldharbour is famous around the world. Much to his disgust, Barclay is being pursued by a pushy and unpleasant American academic called Rick Tucker. In his desperate attempts to be Wilf’s official biographer — rifling through his bins, stalking him around the world — Rick is a ‘paper man’ without any solid substance to define him outside of the written word. However, the same can be said for Barclay himself, whose manic attempts to write about — and physically avoid — his would-be biographer are equally ludicrous and farcical. For lovers of fiction, the result is a very funny novel from Sir Golding; a writer who is not famed for his comic prose.

Critics have often complemented Golding for his ability to adopt new linguistic techniques in each and every novel he composes, never producing the same book twice. And yet, there are certain themes and motifs that hold the body of his work together in one coherent stream. Later in this book, for example, we see the protagonist go through a spiritual epiphany in the form of a life-changing dream. This kind of symbolic moment, where the absence of an explanation might be filled by an omniscient presence, is seen also in Golding’s other books. It is the kind of moment that is more akin with poetry than prose. This would make sense, as Golding has been quoted — I very much paraphrase — as saying he started out wanting to be a poet.

Seeing as one can only read a book once for the first time, and I am closer now to completing all of Golding’s books, I have treasured this week’s review with great pleasure. It was very refreshing to be taken through a series of comical situations by a writer who is usually rather seriously minded in his work. From all evidence, Golding appears to have been a pleasant and funny man with a teacher’s enthusiasm for learning. I recently read a series of essays edited by John Carey, written a while ago to celebrate the writer’s seventy-fifth birthday. It was a fantastic opportunity to read about the man and his works, especially because Sir Golding liked to keep his private life private, like the fictional Wilfred Barclay in this enjoyably comic novel.

I would like to thank John Keats Community Library for loaning out this lovely first edition.

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